Monthly Archives: February 2017

5 posts

100 Years of Citizenship

                  Puerto Ricans have had American citizenship since 1917.

Next week marks 100 years of American citizenship for Puerto Ricans, granted by an act of Congress on the eve of the first World War.

The exact date is March 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Jones Act, which also established the legislative, judicial and executive branches of island government, and – notoriously – declared English the official language of a territory governed by Spanish-speaking Spain the previous 400 years. (Language has since become a ping pong but that is another story.)

The act laid the groundwork for about 20,000 Puerto Ricans to be drafted into World War I.

There will be some form of island commemoration, as Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló last week established a commission to plan for the celebration of the 100th anniversary. The pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party has been strangely silent on the matter. Meanwhile, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York is planning a series of traveling lectures beginning in mid March, including stops in Washington, D.C., and Orlando.

What Does American Citizenship Mean?

What does American citizenship mean to Puerto Ricans today?

Most Puerto Ricans likely are glad to have American citizenship for the freedoms and the stability of government it affords, compared with other countries. My own family’s American citizenship covers six generations – born here and there – based on the 1917 act. And my family is not an exception but rather the rule.

But it’s also fair and accurate to say that Puerto Ricans have decidedly mixed attitudes about  American citizenship, for reasons that will become clear.

“Excelente idea de celebrar con orgullo nuestra ciudadania!!! Hoy más que nunca debemos apreciar nuestro estatus privilegiado de Puerto Rico,USA! Si no pregunteselo a los mexicanos indocumentados!” wrote a reader in the island’s El Nuevo Día newspaper in response to Rosselló’s new commission. (Excellent idea to celebrate our citizenship with pride! Today more than ever we should appreciate our privileged status of Puerto Rico, USA!. If not, ask undocumented Mexicans!)

Another reader countered,  “…el germen del coloniaje está bien profundo en nuestra psiquis.” (The germ of colonialism is very profound in our psyche.)

Puerto Rican Citizenship Is ‘Different’

Why the Janus-like split?

Because Puerto Rican citizenship is “different,” and it has been upheld and reinforced as such throughout the 20th century, leaving Puerto Ricans sometimes confused about its meaning because:

• It was granted by Congress and thus is not a constitutional guarantee, as is the citizenship of those born in the 50 states. Congress can yank back Puerto Rican citizenship, if it had the will to do so (which many scholars think it does not, but it’s not inconceivable).

• The difference has been used to justify treatment of Puerto Rican citizens as “less than” their stateside counterparts in all manner of ways – from a lack of a presidential vote and representation in Congress to unequal treatment in federal programs.

Citizenship for those born or residing on the island is therefore inferior due to its lack of political power. It is a second-class United States’ citizenship.

Lacking Full Power

At a 2015 conference about citizenship at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Juan Torruellas said, “The status of inequality imposed on Puerto Ricans from day one of U.S. sovereignty to the present hasn’t changed one iota.”

Roger Smith, chair of the Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism at the University of Pennsylvania, at the same conference characterized Puerto Rican citizenship as “a novel form of differentiated citizenship,” citizenship which is lacking in civil rights, political rights and social rights – “the classic trilogy of basic rights of citizenship. Puerto Rican citizenship is distinct along all three dimensions.”

Deja Vu All Over Again

Each generation of Puerto Ricans is condemned to learn this over and over again.

During the early 1990s, when a status plebiscite was underway, congressional representatives conducted hearings in Puerto Rico, reiterating that Puerto Rican citizenship was “not permanent,” that Congress could take it away. The words generated a collective gasp. (I lived in Puerto Rico at the time. The Earth shook that day; it was a shocker.)

More recently, the island’s fiscal crisis demonstrated the limits of Puerto Rican citizenship and sovereignty. The island learned it had been excluded from a 1984 reorganization of the federal bankruptcy code, meaning Puerto Ricans couldn’t use the code – as citizens in the 50 states can – to alleviate public debt, then totaling $72 billion.

Puerto Rico’s creation of its own form of bankruptcy – la quiebra criolla – was shot down by the courts, stating Puerto Rico didn’t have the power to do so.

Fiscal Crisis

But it was deja vu all over again when Congress appointed a fiscal control board with powers over the island’s legislative and executive branches, harking to the years between 1917 and 1947 when Puerto Rico’s government was appointed by the U.S.

Puerto Ricans on the island do not enjoy a full-throttle citizenship – not even to abdicate it, as late Puerto Rico socialist party leader Juan Mari Bras unsuccessfully attempted. The U.S. State Department granted the expatriation but lower courts rejected it because Mari Bras returned to live in Puerto Rico, a U.S. jurisdiction.

In other words, he had to give up not only his American citizenship but his island as well.

Future of  ‘Different’ American Citizenship

Where does that leave Puerto Rican citizens on the island? In a state of limbo about which the citizens of the 50 states are mostly unfamiliar, making it difficult for Puerto Rico-related issues to gain traction.

In a 2016 Economist/YouGov poll about Puerto Rico only 43 percent of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. About 41 percent said Puerto Ricans were citizens of Puerto  Rico, while 15 percent replied they were unsure. (In the current deportation roundup, a Puerto Rican was detained for several days then freed.)

Gov. Rosselló is laying the groundwork for a new plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s status for June of this year, which would make it about the fourth one over the last six decades.

Politicization of Latinos

The increasing population and politicization of Latinos in the U.S. offers a glimmer of hope –  but no guarantee – that Hispanics (about 16 ethnicities) would be inclined to address issues of Puerto Rican citizenship or status.

Which is a main reason Puerto Rico increasingly looks to the over 5 million Puerto Ricans comprising the diaspora – higher than the 3.4 million residing on the island – to agitate and exercise their full citizenship rights to pressure elected officials about Puerto Rico.

Said Judge Torruella: “I think this is ultimately a Puerto Rican issue that has to be resolved with our brothers and sisters in the United States.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Homeland Security Casts Wide Net Over Undocumented Immigrants

The new immigration enforcement directive casts a wide net over undocumented immigrants in the U.S. /ICE

The Department of Homeland Security Tuesday cast a wide net over undocumented immigrants in a new enforcement directive that broadened the categories of who is subject to  apprehension and potentially deportation.

The move is likely to exacerbate the fear and anxiety running through immigrant communities since Donald Trump was elected president.

One man at an immigration meeting with newly minted Congressman Darren Soto said it felt like “it’s attack after attack.”

The DHS directive is in response to a January 25 executive order by President Trump, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”

Broad Categories

Because it is so broad just about anybody can be stopped, questioned, detained and deported, including undocumented immigrants who:

 (I) have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved;

(3) have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(4) have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency;

(5) have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(6) are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States;

or (7) in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

Categories (2) and (3) make it clear that the directive doesn’t target only undocumented individuals convicted of a crime, as former President Barack Obama‘s previous priority did, but the undocumented can be detained and removed if they are charged but not yet convicted of a crime, a potential opening for lawyers to challenge as that provision may violate due process.

Shift in Approach

The directive represents a wholesale shift in thinking and approach about how to handle the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom are Latinos. Previous estimates indicated that fewer than 1 million undocumented immigrants remained in the country who had been convicted of crimes which made them deportable.

Under Obama’s eight-year administration, nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants were deported, an unprecedented number, prompting some critics to label him the “Deporter in Chief.”

The new enforcement action aims at all 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States – with the exception of the undocumented children and parents who fall under Obama’s “deferred action” programs.

Exemption for DACA and DAPA

The exemptions of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for  Parental Arrivals (DAPA) are the sole bright spots in an otherwise bearish immigration enforcement directive.

DACA and DAPA beneficiaries total about 4 million.

To ensure enforcement, the directive also calls for hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, nearly doubling the current number and boosting the likelihood of a run-in with ICE.

Many Latinos – undocumented or not, citizen or permanent resident or not – have a higher chance of being stopped and questioned as immigration agents search for the undocumented among us.

Immigrant Profiling

Farmworker advocate Tirso Moreno likened it to a form of profiling during Congressman Soto’s immigration community meeting.  Moreno also raised the issue of potential “bullying in the streets” of people stopped at traffic signals, for instance.

“I realize it’s not going to be easy,” Soto replied.

Soto added that lawsuits are likely as there are “many institutions that are ready to step up,” referring to colleges and universities that have indicated they are not going to comply with immigration orders.

Miami-Dade County has taken the opposite course, as its County Commission voted last week to end its status as a sanctuary for immigrants and agreed to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Miami-Dade has the largest population of immigrants in Florida.

Florida Ranks Third in Undocumented Immigrants

According to Pew Research, Florida ranks third in the nation for undocumented immigrants,  placing the state behind California and Texas. The Center for Migration Policy estimates there are over 700,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida.

Plus, about two-thirds of those undocumented did not cross the southern border with Mexico, as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) has indicated. They entered the country legally but overstayed their visas, considered a civil offense.

About 66 percent of the nation’s undocumented immigrant adults have been in the country at least a decade, the Pew Research reported, making them long-term residents.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Miami-Dade Pulls Sanctuary Welcome Mat

A border patrol agent watches over undocumented immigrant detainees in a holding facility before they are deported. This is the scenario that awaits many undocumented immigrants in Miami-Dade County now that the county has ended its sanctuary status.  /U.S. Border Patrol

Miami-Dade County officially reversed course on being a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the first in the nation to do so, a decision that is an affront to the county’s history as a place that welcomes  immigrants.

In a special meeting and by a vote of 9 to 3 – not even close – the Miami-Dade County Commission, itself populated with immigrants and children of immigrants, voted to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, hoping to safeguard millions in federal funds that the Trump administration has threatened to withhold.

Damning of all – six of seven Latinos on the County Commission voted to end sanctuary status. Only former Mayor Xavier Suárez voted against it.

Latinos Vote for No Sanctuary

Of the six who voted fore the measure about four were born in Cuba, whose immigrants until recently enjoyed a privileged status, with the U.S. government providing a direct route to financial assistance, permanent residency and eventually American citizenship. Barack Obama ended the practice, known as “wet-foot, dry-foot,” in one of his last acts as president.

“This is a day that will define Miami-Dade County for the future,” said Commissioner Jean Monestime, who is the board’s first Haitian-American member. “Today cannot be about money, Mr. Mayor. It must be about justice. It must be about dignity,” Monestine said, as reported in the Miami Herald.

Monestime was referring to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who in January initiated the change, arguing that Miami-Dade had never been a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. He further stated that Miami-Dade had never stopped cooperating with federal immigration officials.

Absorb Immigrants

But Miami-Dade is a region that accepted and absorbed – if not exactly welcomed – tens of thousands of immigrants, many of them undocumented. At no time more so than in 1980 when 125,000 immigrants from Cuba’s Mariel port landed on South Florida shores in the span of just a six months. That’s a rate of arrival of 21,000 per month. Anyone who was alive and aware at that time remembers the crisis.

Miami-Dade is 65 percent Latino, of which 54 percent is Cuban, according to census data.  But after Mariel the county also became more ethnically diverse, as political tumult coursed  through the veins of Central and South America.

The county now includes Colombians (7 percent of Latinos), Nicaraguans (6.6 percent), Dominicans and Hondurans (each nearly 4 percent) Venezuelans (3 percent) – to say nothing of Haitians (70 percent of Miami-Dade West Indians), who were turned away at sea even as Cubans were being welcomed to Miami-Dade with open arms.

They were all mostly poor, perhaps persecuted, tired, hungry and yearning to breathe free. This is what makes the Miami-Dade County Commission’s vote galling.

Residents Voice Opposition

Mayor Gimenez feigned his own brand of outrage, saying “Yo soy inmigrante” (I am an immigrant), in answer to the opposition, as if it made the measure easier to swallow.

It did not.

To the credit of Miami-Dade residents, about 150 jammed the County Commission chamber to tell their immigrant stories and denounce the move. According to the Miami-Herald, activists had protested in front of county headquarters for weeks. Only a small number supported the move. Residents at the meeting chanted “Shame on you!” as they left the chamber.

“The last four weeks have been so difficult for me and so difficult for everyone,” said Nora Sandigo, an immigration activist.

Not Personal but Financial

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, born in Cuba and educated in Puerto Rico, justified the decision. “We’re all immigrants. We all have very sad stories,” said Sosa, according to the Miami-Herald, adding that Miami-Dade’s decision was not personal but financial, affecting only those booked on local charges.

Don’t bet on it.

The no-sanctuary vote will affect many more people. “Every single day something is happening in the neighborhood,” said Sandigo, the immigration activist.

It’s personal.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Venezuela Gets Attention in Trump Tweet

The presidential tweet and photo op in support of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López. / Trump Twitter feed

Venezuela got some attention this week from President Donald Trump, who earlier publicly supported Venezuela opposition leader Leopoldo López in a tweet

Trump may have been encouraged by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who was photographed with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and López’s wife Lilian Tintori in the White House, perhaps also signaling that all is forgiven between Rubio – whom Trump mocked as “Lil Marco” throughout the presidential campaign – and the President.

Rubio and his wife later were scheduled to have dinner with Trump in the White House.

“Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of (just met w/ ) out of prison immediately,” Trump tweeted.

Foreign Policy magazine asked, “Could it be that the Venezuelan president is one strongman Trump doesn’t like?”

Venezuela does deserve U.S. attention. It is without a doubt a rogue nation. The once oil-rich country has plummeted into poverty, its people are starving, its constitutional guarantees under attack. Venezuela accused opposition leader López, an economist trained in the U.S.,  of inciting violence and anti-government protests. He was imprisoned about three years ago.

Obama Executive Order

Before leaving office, Barack Obama renewed an executive order designating Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security. Obama explained that Venezuela’s situation had not improved since the original executive order dated March 2015.

Obama argued against the Venezuelan government’s alleged “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to anti-government protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of anti-government protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant government corruption.”

Venezuela Shuts Down CNN en Español

Venezuela this week took CNN en Español off the air over its report about fraudulent Venezuelan passports, including passports to people alleged to have terrorism ties. It was one of Venezuela’s few remaining foreign news gathering operations.

CNN en Español  “instigates religious, racial and political hatred,” justified Venezuela’s Telecommunications Commission Director Andrés Eloy Méndez, who also accused the network of distorting the truth, generating a climate of intolerance and being an “imperialistic media organization.”

CNN en Español responded that it would put its live feed on YouTube and make it available in Venezuela.

Sanctions Venezuela Vice President

Prior to the Venezuelan government pulling the plug on CNN en Español the Trump administration hit Venezuela Vice President Tareck El Aissami with sanctions, stating he’s an international drug trafficker. The U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions freezes El Aissami’s assets in the U.S. and prohibits Americans from doing business with him.

CNN en Español and CNN conducted a year-long investigation into El Aissami, linking him to the passport scandal as well.

Protest at Lake Eola

On Saturday the Orlando area’s Venezuelan community was scheduled to march in Lake Eola against the Venezuelan government’s latest move. “No+ Dictatura en Venezuela” read poster for the event, to place at the bust of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan who “liberated the Americas” in the 19th century.

The protest was to take place in conjunction with worldwide protests in 18-plus cities around the world, also including Miami, New York, Houston, Charlotte (NC) and Washington, D.C.

Orlando’s Venezuelan community tends to be fiercely against President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chávez. Some people posted the CNN live feed link on their Facebook pages.

“Hasta cuando Venezuela, cada día nos cierran más las pocas ventanas de liberated de expresión, reaccionemos,” stated the Facebook post of Pedro Elías Carrasco García, who lives in Venezuela. (Until when, Venezuela. Each day they close the few windows of freedom of expression. We should react.”